Saturday, October 08, 2005

Too Old, Too Small, Maybe


This project was born as the result of a journey: a trip to New York, in March of 2003, that began a few days before the war in Iraq. We were to do some reading performances there, at the request of Elizabeth Macklin. We had instantly begun wondering what we, who work in a language of 600,000 speakers, would have to offer in a city that has neighborhoods of that size.
WH Auden once wrote that travel writing owes very little to its authors, and everything to the people they meet up with on the journey. That's exactly it. It's impossible for me to mention now all the people we met up with there. We'll save them up for ourselves. But I would like to mention two people, in hopes it will help you unedrsatnd the project.
I met the first of them after the performance at the Cornelia Street Cafe. I didn't learn her name. In the audience was an older couple, still carrying their antiwar placards, who had gone straight to the reading from the demostration. It was the woman who came up to us when the reading was over. She said she was a psychiatrist. She had worked her whole life with people suffering from schizophrenia. She told us how with some patients there's no understanding anything they say when they're speaking. They're ceaselessly speaking gibberish. But that this didn't matter. The speaking was the thing, putting problems into words. Because the worry we brood over inwardly is lightened when we speak it in words, when we've got someone in front of us to listen. And thought she didn't understand the patients' words, she said, she did in fact know what they meant to say. She hadn't understood a word of the Euskara, either, she went on then. But what we'd been meaning to say she had heard, clear as day, just as she did in the hospital with the patients. You have to know how to listen.
Then there was the remark made by a woman, a poet named Phillis Levin. She said that she'd heard of Euskara before as well, she'd seen things written in Basque. She'd looked them over and more than once had tried to read them, just to see if she could. She was wonderstruck at all the x's that turned up on the page. The language looks like a treasure map, she said to me. If you just forget all the rest of the letters and focus in on the x, it looks as if you could find out where the treasure is. I thought it was the most beautiful thing one could say about a language one didn't know, that it's the map to the treasure.
I'm certain you too will know how to read the treasure map, and at last find the treasure. Don't look too far afield, it's in your own self.
Kirmen Uribe
(To Aitzol)
He heard the first cukoo at the beginning of April.
Because he'd been feeling on edge, maybe,
from his inclination to order the chaos, maybe,
he wanted to know which notes the cukoo sang.
He sat waiting with his pitch pipe
next afternoon: when
would the cukoo sing?
He finally achieved it;
The pitch pipe told no lies.
Si-sol were the cukoo's notes.
The discovery shook the countryside.
Everyone wanted to prove whether truly those
were the notes that the cukoo sang.
The measurements were not in harmony.
Each had his or her own truth.
One said it was fa-re, another mi-do.
No one managed to agree.
Meanwhile the cukoo went on singing in the forest,
not mi-do, not fa-re, not si-sol, either.
As it had a thousand years before,
the cukoo sang cuccu, cuccu.
Lyrics by: Kirmen Uribe
Music by: Rafa Rueda.

No comments: